Mastering can be the most important stage on your way to releasing your music. You’ve most likely invested thousands of dollars and spent countless hours recording and mixing, it is important that you give your project a professional finish that will allow it to compete with the best. How do you know how your productions will sound to the average person? The truth is, being so close to the music, you likely never will. That’s where a professional mastering job comes in.
What is mastering?
Mastering is the stage between mixing and the pressing plant, where songs/cuts are assembled in the final order and the “master” prepared for duplication or release. Song-to-song levels are equalized, the stereo image is properly balanced, fade-ins, fade-outs and any cross-fades are added, any last-minute compression/limiting is applied to even out the dynamic range of the compilation as a whole, and if necessary, clean-up of all remaining noise or hum. Mastering is considered an art and professional mastering engineers utilize considerable experience, skill and highly trained ears.
How do I know if I need mastering?
If you have completed the mix, have determined the song order and are planning any kind of release, you are strongly encouraged to master first.
Our producer says he can do it himself, would that be OK?
Having your CD producer also perform the mastering is strongly discouraged by most industry professionals. The fact is the world’s top engineers and producers do not master their own work.
It is critical that you have fresh ears (in a different studio from where you recorded) giving your release the professional finish it needs before sending it out to the world. It is not an insult to your producer or studio when you master your CD in a new environment; in fact it is standard practice. Daniel Lanois, Bob Rock and Kanye West do not master the projects they produce. They know better.
In recent years, the rapid worldwide migration of music recording from large, expensive studio facilities with highly trained and experienced staff to smaller home-based “artist” studios have made mastering more needed than ever. While many of these smaller studios are well suited for creating and recording music, they are usually not acoustically designed or staffed for precision audio mixing. As a result, mastering in another facility and with a trained mastering engineer is critical.
How can I ensure that I’ll like the finished product?
We and the facilities we work with guarantee it. You have the final say. We know that in over 95% of cases, artists are thrilled with the results and accept their new master. In the other 5% of the cases, we need to go back to the facility and say “sorry, here are the concerns, please address them”.
If new approach is needed or just little tweaks then we will make sure the engineer delivers. Remember, we send out a lot of mastering gigs to these people, so we have the ability to ask and receive more than you can on your own. We will make sure you are pleased.
How much does it cost?
Without Indie Pool negotiating “indie” rates, you would expect to pay between $1,500 and $2,500 to have your release mastered by Canada’s best. Since Indie Pool has made arrangements with Canada’s top facilities, you can expect to pay between $250 and $1150 for the same service at the same facilities through Indie Pool.
How long does mastering usually take?
In general, mastering can take anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of weeks. If you are on a tight schedule make sure you relay that to your Artist Rep to ensure they make the necessary arrangements to help you stay on schedule.
What can I do to make sure my master is ready for mastering?
There are several steps you or your producer/engineer can take while mixing to make things smoother for eventual mastering. The better you prepare your master the more time the mastering engineer will have to tackle the more important issues and add some nice “polish”.
1. Always mix with the highest resolution possible — don’t down-sample or do bit reduction (dithering) until the very end. We require 44.1 kHz 16 or 24bit WAV files for ALL mastering packages.
2. Leave any fade-ins or fade-outs for the mastering process. If you do them before you master, once the volume and leveling is fixed, the fades may sound abrupt.
3. Don’t add any processing (overall EQ or Compression) to the overall mix or master mix bus, just to individual channels as you mix. This also means do not “normalize” your mixes as well. Processing completed mixes is best left for mastering.
4. Listen closely for distortion during your mix. Don’t try to and get your mixes sounding as loud as possible. A few “overs” may not be audible as you listen to the mix, but may be accented if you add EQ or limiting while mastering. It’s better to leave a few dB of headroom rather than risk distortion. Let the mastering folks get the highest level possible for you.
5. Write out your instructions on the form provided by your artist rep detailing what you expect from the mastering, including your concerns, ideas for fades and things you are hoping to achieve. We will ensure your engineer receives it. In most cases, the engineers don’t mind speaking to artists directly, but all of them prefer to see written details.
6. IRSC Codes – go to www.avla.ca
7. Getting your file to us – either upload to our ftp through our website, or provide us with a link to download the files from you.